Miles Community College and Dawson Community College are again enjoying success on the baseball diamond this spring. And once again, they're doing it with Montana players.
Miles will take a 34-11 record into the NJCAA Division II Region 13 tournament, which begins Friday in Bismarck, N.D.
The Pioneers are led by the 1-2 pitching duo of Kyle McBride of Billings and Casey Miller (Miles City), and led offensively by Landon Danelson (Great Falls), Tyrel Gentry (Miles City), Luke Sansaver (Wolf Point) and Michael Falcon (Glasgow).
Dawson will take a 27-26 mark into the NJCAA Division III Region 13 tournament, which opens Friday in Fergus Falls, Minn. The Buccaneer offense is led by, among others, shortstop Chris Losett of Helena and center fielder O'Shean Moran of Laurel.
"This is the second year in a row our entire roster is made up of Montana kids," said Rob Bishop, a Miles City native who's been MCC's head coach since the program started in 2001. "There are a ton of good players in Montana … there's no reason for us not to recruit Montana kids."
Dawson coach Brent Diegel agrees.
"We've always had mostly Montana kids, and we've been in the regional championship three times in five years," said Diegel, a Glendive native who's been the DCC head coach for all six years of the program's existence. "There's a lot of talented kids in Montana that need a place to play."
Miles and Dawson finished first and second, respectively, in the Mon Dak Conference this season. The Mon Dak also includes North Dakota schools Williston State, Bismarck State and Minot State-Bottineau.
Because Miles is a Division II junior college and Dawson is Division III, the Pioneers and Buccaneers go their separate ways once the regular season ends. Miles began postseason play last weekend by winning the Mon Dak Region tournament in Bottineau while Dawson is opening its postseason at this weekend's regional.
Both have their sights set on reaching NJCAA World Series play.
To reach the Division II World Series, Miles must win this weekend's four-team regional and then defeat the champion of the Iowa regional in a one-game playoff. Miles and MSU-Bottineau will be joined in the regional by Madison (Wis.) Area Tech and Bethany Lutheran, Minn. The Pioneers face Madison Area Tech at 11 a.m. in Friday's first round.
Dawson can earn its second trip to the Division II World Series in three years by winning this weekend's six-team regional, which includes Milwaukee Area Tech, Wis., and four Minnesota schools. The Bucs will meet Fergus Falls, Minn., in the first round at 11 a.m. Friday.
Well-armed Pioneers While his team boasts an impressive team batting average of .352, Bishop points to freshman right-handers McBride and Miller as the key to MCC's season.
"We can compete with any Division II team in the country when those two kids are on the mound," said Bishop. "Kyle (McBride) has just been phenomenal, and Casey (Miller) is as good a No. 2 starter as you're going to find at this level."
McBride, a freshman who was the winning pitcher when the Billings Scarlets won the State AA Legion title in 2000, was voted the Mon Dak Conference player of the year. His numbers are simply dominant: An 8-1 record and 2.73 ERA, seven complete games in nine starts, 56 strikeouts and 16 walks in 59 1/3 innings.
Miller has been nearly as good, going 7-2 with a 2.75 ERA in nine starts with five complete games and 40 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings.
McBride and Miller have gotten plenty of run support, led by outfielder Danelson (.410 batting average, 10 home runs, 45 RBIs), catcher Gentry (.405, 50 runs scored, 44 RBIs), and infielders Falcon (.263, 34 RBIs) and Sansaver (.394, 23 RBIs).
Freshman Kyle Pryor of Billings is MCC's starting shortstop (.290, 19 RBIs) and will return for his final season with the Billings Scarlets this summer. Other Billings players on the MCC roster include outfielder/pitcher Kory Johnson, infielder Braydon Hoiness and pitcher Chris Martin.
The Pioneers have set a school record for wins this season, and Bishop is looking for a few more wins this weekend.
"I think we can win the regional," he said. "We've had stretches this season where our pitching, hitting and defense have all clicked … if we do that this weekend we can come out on top."
Battle-tested Buccaneers Dawson's 27-26 record is somewhat misleading. The Buccaneers went 2-14 on a season-opening trip through Arizona, Utah and Idaho — a trip on which they faced 11 Division I junior colleges.
The Bucs are 25-12 in their last 27 games and put together a 13-game win streak in the middle of the season.
"I'm a little disappointed in our record, but there's no question this is the toughest schedule we've had in the six years of the program," said Diegel. "The competition we faced on that (season-opening) road trip has made us better … we're a better team than our record shows."
Losett, a sophomore, is hitting .348 with five home runs and leads the team in RBIs (52), doubles (19) and stolen bases (21).
Third baseman Dustin Smith of Hyrum, Utah, is batting .347 and is also DCC's No. 1 pitcher with a 4-4 record and 1.98 ERA.
Moran, a sophomore, is hitting .335 for the season and is the team's "hottest hitter in the last couple of weeks," according to Diegel.
Freshman pitcher Joe Hicks, who has been both a starter and a reliever this season, is currently the lone Billings player on the DCC roster.
Though his team does not enter the regional as one of the pre-tournament favorites, Diegel likes the Bucs' chances.
"We've had solid pitching all season, and we've hit the ball real well the last week or two," he said. "We're not being looked at as one of the favorites, but in my mind we'll be one of the best teams in the field … it's up to our guys to go out and prove me right."